Tim Kelly realized early on that his book about Louis "Red" Klotz needed to be "more than a basketball story."
And so it is: Kelly's newly released The Legend of Red Klotz (ComteQ Publishing) tells a lively and loving tale of a carrottopped South Philly kid who enjoyed a unique role in the history of sports, entertainment, and even international diplomacy.
"Red's the greatest shooter who ever lived, and that wasn't even the best part of his game," Kelly, 61, says of the gentlemanly, yet fiercely competitive, fellow who helped introduce American basketball to the postwar world.
Born in a Darien Street rowhouse in 1921, Klotz, now 92, played neighborhood, high school, college, and professional ball in Philly, where his two-handed set shot became legendary. He later had a storied career on the court and in the front office of the Washington Generals.
Sometimes suiting up as the Jersey Reds, the team Klotz established and still owns lost to the Harlem Globetrotters in all but one of 14,000 contests worldwide, Kelly writes.
Klotz is mentally sharp, but multiple strokes have left him unable to speak clearly. He lives with Gloria, his wife of 75 years, along with a museum's worth of basketball memorabilia, in a Margate, N.J., beach house.
"Even in his late 80s, playing in the schoolyard, people who tried to stop him couldn't," says Kelly, who grew up in Collingswood and lives in Ocean City, N.J.
He's a South Jersey newspaper veteran - we were editors together at a now-defunct group of weeklies in the late '70s - and retired in July after 20 years as public information director for Richard Stockton College.
Kelly met Klotz during a campus Globetrotters appearance in the mid-1990s, and the two bonded while shooting hoops on Jerome Avenue in Margate. The author later interviewed Klotz for two magazine stories, which led to the book.
The Legend of Red Klotz also draws upon interviews with 40 individuals, as well as research at the Temple University Urban Archives. The book describes Klotz's coming of age when the game was young and South Philly was made up of tough, working-class ethnic neighborhoods where sports offered a route up and out.
Similarly, the Globetrotters' precision blend of highly skilled playing and comedic performance offered African American athletes a chance to play professionally in front of audiences worldwide at a time when such opportunities were few.
Witnesses to the era are passing away; several people Kelly interviewed have died, which added to a sense of urgency to finish the manuscript "while Red is still with us," he says.
"In October, on his 92d birthday, I gave him a [proof] of the book," Kelly adds. "He deserved that much, for giving me a chance to write it. And we pulled it off together."